Why Gerhard Richter is the perfect artist

… and what can we learn from him?

Note to reader: This starts a new series of posts all about great creative ideas, how they came about and their impact. When I created MyIdeasBook as an online tool it was to help people develop their creative hunches into great ideas. The most accomplished creatives in the world use an idea and exhaust all its possibilities in all directions. These blog posts will offer an insight into great creative ideas with the aim of inspiring and helping you focus and deliver on your ideas. 

Gerhard Richter had a light bulb moment. He may not have realised it was a light bulb moment at the time, but one key action laid the foundation stone for a lifetimes artistic endeavor.

“A painting can help us to think something that goes beyond this senseless existence. That’s something art can do.” 2009

Panorama at Tate Modern was retrospective show which looked at six periods of work in Gerhard Richter’s life as a painter. It was an awe inspiring show because of the diversity, playfulness and the surprise presence of objects. This show has inspired me to consider why and how one particular decision can affect your creative work irrevocably.

Playfulness seems to be the starting point for all the triumphs in Richter’s work and it’s this playfulness or instinct to meddle which underpins the development of his work. He states that he did not have a role model father and nor the resistance of a father that ‘draws boundaries’, and that this enabled him to stay ‘childishly naïve that much longer’.

I am particularly interested in the diversity of media and style within his work. He has been able to express all avenues of his interests from abstraction to photography and realism and in market terms this has enabled him to reach a wider audience too. He has set his own agenda, not followed one. To have the confidence to experiment with a variety of art works which seem to tangent from the same starting point but explore ideas in very different ways is admirable and reiterates his ability to play.

Richter does not practice his art in a bubble or a vacuum. He collaborates and is inspired by his peers as well as absorbing and considering world events. He made paintings based on photographs from journals or magazines. He can take many years to make a work which explores an event like his painting September which evokes the horrific 9.11 without being direct, he leaves it to the viewer to bring their feelings and imbue the painting with them. This is what he also does with his objects – he allows the viewer to become part of the work using reflection. They are and intelligent and natural progression of his ideas in painting, which is also why there are so few. 11 panes 2006 is particularly noteworthy in its success at making the viewer into a Richter ‘painting’.

Back to Richter’s ONE big idea. In 1963 Richter painted a photograph and then took a brush and started to trail it over parts or all over the painting. This action blurred the image and took the photo-realism of his work to a new place where the painterly finish and mark making would become as important as the image. The technique added movement and life to the paintings and was discovered through Richter’s ability to take a risk and play. There could be a connection with this action and the print making techniques he had tried earlier. In print making you squeegee or roller ink and this principle is evoked in Richter’s soft abstracts and realism paintings. Painting from a photograph was radical in those days and Richter was very aware of what people were making and doing because he connected to and was inspired by other artists. Blurring the paint on the canvas that day set him on a path of painterly discovery to achieve a perfect moment within each work.

The blurring of the photo painting can be seen as showing a moment in time and just edging towards distortion so that the viewer is forced to give more time to try to understand the image while revelling in its beautiful painterly qualities. This relationship he encourages with the viewer is makes Richter’s work so beguiling.

In Richter’s abstract works he takes a large plastic sheet and spreads and moves the paint about till it feels like he can do no more – he tells it as though the painting speaks to him that it is complete and then he is relieved. The grey paintings and colour charts are meditations on rhythm, repetition and control which hone his skills and express other aspects of his psyche and his fascinations. But the theme of blurring and moving the paint is repeated through all his works.

It is important to his work how ‘bothered’ he is about humanity and what happens in the wider world and he has the intellectual capacity to express his thoughts as paintings in a unique and revelatory way. This probably comes through growing up in Germany with the extreme experiences it brought. His ability to transcend any of the negative, self doubting thoughts that can creep into artistic heads and keep painting and making regardless is inspiring. He confidently destroys his paintings when they don’t feel right.

Richter travelled a lot and interacted with artists and creatives throughout Europe to find out what was happening in the art world around the globe. These days we have computers to aid our connectedness, but we also have to earn a lot of money to just survive day-to-day, so we need to utilise modern methods carefully and effectively to help us connect and develop our great ideas. As artists, if we re-learn to focus on our ideas and play more then we may stand a chance of achieving some of what Richter has achieved.

For me personally, seeing his work has given me more confidence to explore and play with my ideas by just starting something and not worry about where it will go or what it means right now. I also think I will be reading and re-reading his life story and looking at his work continually over time for inspiration because he really is a ‘perfect artist’ for his continuity, diversity and being able to live off his work.

Gerhard Richter Take Away inspiration:

1. Study, be inspired by, network and interact with your peers.

2. Have a knowledge of and use your emotional response to the world around you in your work.

3. Stay playful – or learn how to be playful again

4. Pursue your interest to its end, persistence is essential.

5. Instinct – try ideas simply when they come into your head to see what happens.

6. Don’t be afraid to make/do the same things over and over again. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to play with a new version of the idea.

7. Regardless of how awful the world is and how broke and fed up you are just keep going. Never question what the point is.

What about you? Did you have a ‘light bulb’ moment in your work and have been have been exploring the idea ever since?

What methods do you use to develop and maintain good ideas? Please leave comments.

By Binita Walia   I am an artist and I created MyIdeasBook. This is the MyIdeasBook Blog. When I constructed the idea for MyIdeasBook it was derived from an understanding that in order to make great ideas you need to put a whole heap of inspirations into your head to get the brain to connect and develop a ‘hunch’ you might have had brewing deep inside you. Research is the secret and MyIdeasBook is a new tool that allows you to gather your research and develop your creative ideas better. Sign up to receive these blog posts directly to your inbox.

 

 

How Darwin’s commonplacing got him celebrity status.

Charles Darwin was an ideas management superstar. It took years and even made him ill but he persisted and using the Commonplace Book system developed his BIG ideas slowly. They arguably had more time in those days but how Darwin did it wasn’t magic – it was systematic and controlled.

I found myself re-reading the exceptional and inspiring book ‘Where good Ideas Come From’ by Steven Johnson again and wanted to share a passage about the benefits of rigorous note making in idea development:

‘We can track the evolution of Darwin’s ideas with such precision because he adhered to a rigorous practice of maintaining notebooks where he quoted other sources, improvised new ideas, interrogated and dismissed false leads, drew diagrams, and generally let his mind roam the page.

We can see Darwin’s ideas evolve because on some basic level the notebook platform creates a cultivating space for his hunches; it is not that the notebook is a mere transcription of the ideas, which are happening offstage somewhere in Darwin’s mind.

Darwin was constantly rereading his notes, discovering new implications. His ideas emerge as a kind of duet between the present-tense thinking of his brain and all those past observations recorded on paper.

Darwin’s notebooks lie at the tail end of a long and fruitful tradition that peaked in Enlightenment-era Europe, particularly in England: the practice of maintaining a “commonplace” book.  Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters – just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. The great minds of the period – Milton, Bacon, Locke – were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book.  In its most customary form, “commonplacing” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from ones reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. ‘

We often laugh off and dismiss thoughts and ideas when we are in different contexts thinking they are rubbish or irrelevant. But somehow every thought can lead to a new thought and could later be re-worked to be a better thought. Improving how we manage hunches as creatives is a key to being better at making better, more relevant work. We now have access to visual information more readily too, snapping pics and having an immense array of visual imagery available at our fingertips online.

How does a modern artist and creative mastermind great ideas and then work out how to monetize them? It’s a matter of process. Firstly do not worry at all about monetizing your work. The priority plan is  to get new and diverse ideas progressing to a stage where real projects start to form into a more cohesive concept that you are really excited about.

Gather your research, look at what others are doing and collect what inspires you carefully. making notes about why. Constantly refer back and forth to all these thoughts and writings. it will take a long time and you will go back and forth but slowly ideas will form, and you can then push these initial ideas further by employing some creative thinking.

Creative people naturally (excuse pun) build ideas like Darwin did, by gathering and building inspiration from what we see around that fascinates us and what we read.  Innovation is valuable and how we innovate depends on how well we are harnessing our thoughts and connecting them up to build a potential project idea.

Once you have the project idea I have found the best thing to do is talk about it to professionals. Who do you know that is a commissioner, consultant or curator that you can safely disclose your thoughts to? Share the idea. Share all of it and see what comes back. There are people out there far more qualified to work out how to earn money from your work than you!

MyIdeasBook was inspired by the commonplace book system but tweaked to be an online tool for visually creative people. How creatives manage ideas is crucial to how they evolve. The reason we need to evolve the way we develop our creative work is because the world around us has changed. The way we created before the internet age may not be as effective as it once was.so By linking up what we are working through on paper to online images and websites and text in a systematic  ‘thinking zone’ is a key to moving our creativity to a new height of innovation.

Have you got a system like the commonplace book or do you use a sketchbook still?

Do you write a lot down and then never read it again or do you continually refer to it?

Does the way Darwin and co. kept commonplace books inspire you?

If you like the sound of getting more strategic in your ideas making and treating yourself to a well designed, private place on the web you can get a trial of MyIdeasBook here.